How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan
Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan in a war that has cost over $1 trillion and seen the loss of tens of thousands of Afghan lives. (AFP)
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Updated 10 August 2021

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan

How a costly proxy war can be prevented in Afghanistan
  • US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 with little understanding of a land long described as the “graveyard of empires”
  • Having failed to build a competent Afghan army to take its place, America’s exit from the country is proving just as chaotic as its arrival

ISLAMABAD: In many ways, the Doha agreement of February 2020 evoked memories of the US military’s humiliation in Vietnam half a century earlier.

The deal with the Taliban, which paved the way for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, was no less ignominious for Washington. It was not a document of surrender but neither was it a declaration of victory for the most powerful military power on earth.

US officials had negotiated peace with the very insurgent leaders they once branded terrorists. In fact, several members of the Taliban negotiating team were former inmates of the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Such is the irony of history: Yet another superpower began its drawdown just as the war-ravaged country observed the 32nd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal. The Russians departed in 1989 after a decade in the Afghan mire. The Americans remained twice as long. The last US soldier is expected to leave in the next few weeks, before the symbolic date of Sept. 11.

Several of the Taliban negotiators in Doha had also fought the Soviets — with US support. At the time they were hailed by Washington as “holy warriors” who drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan with weapons supplied by the Americans.

Indeed, the irony was again apparent when Taliban fighters turned many of those same weapons on their former patrons.

US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, with little understanding of a land that has long been described as the “graveyard of empires.” It was an unwinnable conflict from the start but Washington fought tooth and nail to shape a narrative that would justify its continuance.

Quite how unprepared the Americans were was aptly summed up in 2015 by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who said: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

Put in these terms, it is perhaps unsurprising that Afghanistan would become America’s longest war.

The Taliban’s resurgence was helped by a strategic miscalculation on the part of Washington, which decided to reempower Afghanistan’s former strongmen and warlords, causing old ethnic and tribal tensions to resurface. One of the biggest US mistakes was a failure to avoid the perception that the West was a party to the Afghan civil war.

Despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops, the US could not defeat the insurgents once and for all. However, the Taliban’s revival as a powerful insurgent force should not have come as a surprise. In fact, the group was never really defeated.

Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed during the war, which cost close to $1 trillion. Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan. The distorted statistics made it appear as though the US was winning the fight — but this was far from the truth.




US forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the 9/11 attacks. (AFP)

There were also fundamental disagreements within successive US administrations over precisely what America’s objectives were in Afghanistan. While some officials believed they were building a model democracy, others saw their role as reinventors of Afghan culture, including its views on women’s rights.

America’s attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade did not work. Most of the US aid money was siphoned off by Afghan officials and warlords aligned with Washington, and the country devolved into a narco-state as a result of some seriously flawed policies.

Despite the billions of dollars spent on building and training the Afghan National Army and other branches of the security apparatus, local forces proved incapable of taking on the Taliban without American support.

Following the Doha agreement, it was left to the Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiate the future political setup of the country. It is certainly a tall order to expect the two warring sides to reach an arrangement that will satisfy all Afghan factions — a polarization that has only intensified over the past two decades of war and foreign occupation.




It was an unwinnable conflict from the start but Washington fought tooth and nail to shape a narrative that would justify its continuance. (AFP)

In addition the departure of the US forces has proven to be just as chaotic as their arrival. The hasty withdrawal has left a cavernous power vacuum.

The Taliban has leveraged the peace deal with the US to its advantage, while growing international recognition is giving the insurgents even greater confidence.

For many Afghans, however, the prospect of a return to Taliban rule is deeply disconcerting. Notwithstanding its solemn pledges, the Taliban has maintained a deliberate ambiguity about its political agenda, which is adding to the sense of confusion.

There were some indications that the ultraconservative Taliban might be willing to work within a pluralistic political system. Yet there was no clarity on whether the group would be willing to work within a democratic political and constitutional setup.

While the Taliban political leadership appears to be more moderate and flexible in its views, there is no evidence that the commanders in the field will be so amenable to change.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, it completely outlawed the right of women to education and work. The current leadership has offered assurances that it acknowledges the rights of women and will not oppose their education, but this has done little to quell the unease many people feel about potential Taliban action once foreign forces withdraw.

Decades of conflict have exacted a heavy toll on the lives of millions of Afghans and unleashed destruction that cannot be undone. The war has left the country as divided as ever. Through battlefield victories and expanding territorial control, the Taliban has gained the upper hand, creating a dangerous asymmetry of power. Many now fear the expansion of Taliban influence will lead to a resurgence of its tyrannical rule.

Regardless of who the adversary was at any given point in time, two generations of Afghans have known only war and it seems highly unlikely their misery will end any time soon.




Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Once the winter residence of sultans from illustrious Islamic dynasties, the ruins of a thousand-year-old royal city in southern Afghanistan has become home to hundreds of people who have fled Taliban clashes. (AFP)

Inevitably, the withdrawal of American forces from the country will have a huge effect on regional geopolitics. Historically, the country’s strategic geography has made it vulnerable to interference from outside powers and proxy wars.

A full-scale civil war could lead Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran to back different factions and themselves become more deeply involved in the conflict. The spillover effects of spiraling instability and conflict in Afghanistan could prove disastrous.

Without a sustainable agreement among surrounding powers that guarantees Afghanistan’s security and its neutrality, the country might become the center of a costly proxy war, with various powers supporting rival factions across ethnic and sectarian lines.

Such an agreement is also critical to prevent Afghanistan reverting to a hub for global terrorism. A negotiated political settlement, intertwined with a regional approach, is the only desirable endgame.


Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
Updated 28 October 2021

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini

Greece marks day it said ‘No’ to Mussolini
  • Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory
  • Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into World War II, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Fighter jets flew over the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Thursday as parachutists landed and troops marched in the city’s center to mark a national holiday commemorating Greece’s defiance of Fascist Italy that forced it to enter World War II.
But some student parades traditionally held in municipalities across Greece were canceled, especially in northern areas which have seen a spike in coronavirus infections, fueled by low vaccination rates in those areas.
Greece’s Oct. 28 national holiday, known as Ochi Day, or No Day, marks the day in 1940 when Athens rejected a pre-dawn Italian ultimatum to allow its forces to enter Greek territory and take control of parts of it.
Italian troops invaded hours later, prompting Greece’s entry into the war, in which outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces successfully repulsed the Italians only to be overwhelmed months later by a separate German invasion.
“The anniversary of ‘No’ is a day of honor and pride for our nation,” President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said, adding that the country’s actions in 1940 “remind us of everything we can achieve when we are united.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended a student parade in a southern suburb of Athens, said the day honored “those who fought against fascism and the conqueror.”
“Today we have the right to look to the future with more confidence and more optimism,” he said, adding that Greece was now stronger both geopolitically and economically.
“I wish and hope we can move forward in this future with the unity the times demand and always have the discretion to tell the difference between the useful ‘yes’ and the necessary ‘no’.”
Last year’s parades were canceled as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. This year, most were allowed to go ahead, although Thessaloniki’s military parade was somewhat pared down, with only military, fire service and security forces parading without the participation of many of the civic groups and associations that traditionally take part. Participants and spectators alike were asked to wear masks.
But several municipalities and regions across northern Greece canceled parades by schoolchildren amid spiking coronavirus cases.
Just over 61 percent of Greece’s population of around 11 million has been fully vaccinated, and only slightly more — just under 64 percent — has received at least one dose. The country has been seeing increasing coronavirus infections, particularly in the north, with intensive care units beginning to fill up.
New infections are over 3,000 per day with dozens of deaths, and ICUs set aside for COVID-19 patients in the country are now at an average 77 percent capacity. On Wednesday, Greece reported 63 deaths and 3,651 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total death toll to 15,770 since the start of the pandemic, with 728,210 confirmed cases.


Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
Updated 28 October 2021

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted

Businessman who organized flight that killed footballer Emiliano Sala convicted
  • David Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would ‘open a can of worms’
  • The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings

LONDON: The businessman who organized the 2019 flight that killed Argentine footballer Emiliano Sala was Thursday found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
David Henderson, 67, was convicted by a majority verdict of 10 to two over the death of the 28-year-old forward by a jury at Cardiff Crown Court.
The plane carrying Sala crashed into the English Channel on January 21, 2019, killing him and pilot David Ibbotson, 59.
Sala had signed for Cardiff City, who were then in the Premier League, for a club-record £15 million (18 million euros, $20 million) from French side Nantes.
It took the jury seven-and-a-half hours to convict Henderson, the aircraft operator, whom the trial heard had arranged the flight with football agent William “Willie” McKay.
He had asked Ibbotson to fly the plane as he was away on holiday with his wife in Paris.
Ibbotson, who regularly flew for Henderson, did not hold a commercial pilot’s license, a qualification to fly at night, and his rating to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired.
The jury heard how just moments after finding out the plane had gone down, Henderson texted a number of people telling them to stay silent, warning it would “open a can of worms.”
The former Royal Air Force officer admitted in court he had feared an investigation into his business dealings.
Prosecutor Martin Goudie said Henderson had been “reckless or negligent” in the way he operated the plane, putting his business above the safety of passengers.
In his closing speech, he claimed Henderson ran an “incompetent, undocumented and dishonest organization.”
Stephen Spence, defending, said his client’s actions were “purely a paperwork issue” and had not led to a likelihood of danger.
He told the court the only difference between a commercial license and the private license held by Ibbotson was whether you could carry passengers for money or not, and not about ability.
Henderson had already admitted a separate offense of attempting to discharge a passenger without valid permission or authorization.
The judge granted Henderson bail to return to be sentenced for both offenses on November 12.
He faces maximum sentences of five years’ imprisonment for endangering the aircraft and two years for the lesser charge.
A British air accident investigation report published in March last year concluded Ibbotson was not licensed to fly the plane or to fly at night.
It assessed that he lost control and flew too fast as he tried to avoid bad weather, and that both he and Sala were affected by carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash.
Sala’s body was recovered from the seabed in February 2019 but that of Ibbotson was never found.
Two months after Sala’s body was discovered, his father, Horacio Sala, died of a heart attack in Argentina.


UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
Updated 28 October 2021

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26

UN calls for more climate adaptation cash from COP26
  • Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future
  • UN's trade and development agency said a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis

GENEVA: The United Nations on Thursday called for nations at the upcoming COP26 climate change summit to increase funding for developing countries to adapt.
Climate adaptation means adjusting to the current effects of climate change and preparing for its predicted impacts in future.
The approach is crucial in developing countries, which are more vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change — floods, drought, heatwaves and wildfires, for example.
The UN’s trade and development agency said Thursday that a round-the-world effort was needed to address the climate crisis, with a focus on helping poorer countries adapt to changing weather.
“Climate change has no borders. So our strategy to adapt to it must be globally coordinated,” UNCTAD chief Rebeca Grynspan told reporters.
“Aligning ambition and action will require... a concerted effort at the multilateral level to ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the worsening impact of ever-increasing climate change events.”
The cost of adapting to climate change in developing nations could reach $300 billion in 2030 and, if mitigation targets are not met, up to $500 billion in 2050, said UNCTAD.
However, current funding levels are less than a quarter of the amount envisaged for 2030, and the report warns that relying on private finance will not serve the countries that need it most.
UNCTAD called for debt relief and restructuring for developing countries and for increased availability of capital for multilateral development banks.
UN economists have said that this capital could be financed by green bonds or by reallocating subsidies from fossil fuels.
According to the UN, the economic losses from climate disasters are proportionally three times worse in developing states than in high-income countries.
The landmark COP26 climate change conference kicking off Sunday in Glasgow is being billed as the best chance to reverse catastrophic climate change before it’s too late.


Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
Updated 28 October 2021

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub

Myanmar ‘integral part’ of ASEAN, Brunei says, despite junta snub
  • ‘Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned’

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: Myanmar remains an “integral part” of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc, member Brunei insisted Thursday, despite the coup-hit country boycotting annual talks in protest at a ban on its junta chief.
The crisis in Myanmar, which is still in chaos following February’s military takeover and subsequent deadly crackdown, dominated this week’s virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The bloc decided to exclude junta chief Min Aung Hlaing after his regime refused to allow ASEAN’s special envoy to meet ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was an unprecedented snub from an organization long accused of being toothless, and infuriated the junta — which rejected an invite to send a senior official to the meeting in his place.
ASEAN is facing calls to go further by suspending or even expelling Myanmar but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the summit host, instead sought to ease tensions.
“Myanmar is an integral part of the ASEAN family, and their membership has not been questioned,” he told a press conference.
“ASEAN will always be there for Myanmar.”
However, he added that the 10-member group hopes “Myanmar will return to normalcy, in accordance with the will of its people.”
Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of member state Malaysia, hinted the junta could be barred from further meetings of the bloc.
Asked if Myanmar will join future talks, he responded: “That is a million dollar question which I cannot answer now.”
“We would want to look at the implementation of the ‘five-point consensus’,” he added, referring to a roadmap to restore peace drawn up by ASEAN.
The bloc appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, in August after months of wrangling.
But he is yet to visit the country after the regime’s refusal to allow him to meet Suu Kyi, who is facing a raft of charges in a junta court and could be jailed for decades.


Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
  • The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

TOKYO: Japan provided Iran with grant aid of ¥695 million (about $6.3 million) to strengthen health and medical capabilities to fight coronavirus in the country, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HRW also called on Tehran to honestly and clearly communicate with the public about the situation. 

Iran’s official government statistics showed that the country experienced its fifth wave in August, with with at least 655 daily COVID-19 deaths.

Hirotaka Matsuo, Japan’s Charge d’Affaires and interim in Tehran exchanged the letter of agreement on this aid with the World Health Organization representative Dr. Husain Syed Jaffar.

The aid, in cooperation with the International Health Organization, will help in providing six MRIs to hospitals in five Iranian locations and obtaining equipment needed to diagnose COVID-19 complications.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan